Question of the Month: December 2006

Question: “I sent out a resume to a lead and haven’t heard anything.  Should I follow up?”

Okay, I realize that the question above seems like something of a giant softball, and many of you can predict what I’m going to say in response, but I feel compelled to address this issue nonetheless — since the lack of appropriate follow-up continues to be a major Achilles Heel for many job seekers.

The short answer to the direct question above is, of course, almost always “yes” — unless an employer expressly forbids follow-up activity or you’re dealing with a blind lead where you have no way of identifying the company in question.  Aside from those instances, you always want to follow up your initial resume submission with a phone call several days later to try to push your candidacy forward.  In doing this, however, it’s important to understand that you’re not calling with any real hope of achieving breakthrough progress or even necessarily getting through to a live human being.  Don’t set the bar that high or you’ll be chronically disappointed.  What you’re attempting to do, instead, is create greater name recognition for yourself by leaving a short phone message that expresses your enthusiasm for the job and showcases your positive, helpful attitude.  Something along the lines of:

“Mr. Jones, this is Betsy Smith, and I was just putting in a quick call to restate my interest in the financial analyst position you have available and to make sure that you did, in fact, receive the resume I e-mailed to you on Tuesday.  On the surface, this opportunity looks like a tremendous fit with my background and current career goals, so I hope I have the chance to meet you for an interview in the near future to learn more about your needs in this position.  In the meantime, if you have any questions I can answer or you need me to provide any further information in support of my candidacy, please don’t hesitate to give me a call at (425) 827-3920.  Thanks for your time and have a great day!”

Again, a message like the one above may turn out to have zero impact on the overall hiring process, but it only takes a minute or two to deliver — and this time will turn out to be very well spent if you gain even a slight extra edge in landing an interview.  Essentially, you’re banking on the fact that most employers get inundated with resumes when they publish a job lead, and that even a tiny speck of conscious or unconscious name recognition goes a long way toward helping separate your document from the pile.  What’s more, some employers are immediately impressed by the rare candidate who has the courage and conviction to follow up, since there’s a good chance they are screening for qualities such as enthusiasm, proactivity, and persistence in terms of the ideal candidate they’re seeking to find.

So again, in the vast majority of cases, job seekers need to manage their pipeline of prospects carefully and follow up as rigorously with each lead as would a professional salesperson whose livelihood was depending on each sale.  Additionally, they need to be on the lookout for allowing negative assumptions to creep into their thinking or squelch their follow-up efforts.  Recently, I received a voice mail from a client that ended with: “Oh yeah, and I haven’t heard back from that other lead you passed along, so I’ll assume they’re not interested.”  You know what they say about assumptions, right?  This is a perfect case in point, and in my e-mail response, I stressed that “the lack of a response from a company doesn’t automatically mean they aren’t interested in you, since in many cases, they just get swamped or busy with other priorities.  So resist the temptation to think negatively!  Keep ‘bugging’ the employers in question until they give you a firm answer, one way or another, and let your competition be the ones who are scared away by the silence…”

In closing, periods of profound employer silence are now simply part and parcel of the modern job search process, and job seekers have to learn to adapt to this reality, rather than get intimidated by it.  Even once the interview process begins, and several encouraging meetings have taken place, it’s not uncommon for a company to suddenly “go dark” and give you the appearance that they’ve completely forgotten about you or left you at the altar.  In these cases, all you can do is try to maintain your sense of humor, follow-up periodically without placing blame, and keep yourself distracted with other productive lead-generation activities.  In most cases, the company will resurface again once their other priorities have subsided, and you’ll be glad you didn’t give up on the lead!

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